Throughout history, countless millions of people have lived in nations where a state religion was enforced. Some of these religions have been relatively mild in their influence, yet others have been very severe. Even today, despite the modern trend toward secularism, dozens of nations have at least a nominal state religion. So, is a state religion in your future?
Ancient empires in Egypt, Persia, Sumer, Greece and Rome had state religions that considered their rulers as divine and as having absolute authority over the lives of their citizens. In the Roman Empire, capital punishment was a penalty for failure to worship the emperor as a god.
From the first to the third centuries ad, in the Roman Empire, those who called themselves Christian were persecuted. Persecution of Christians began with Emperor Nero in 64ad, and continued heavily under Domitian from 90–96ad, and under Decius and Valerian, and reached a climax under the emperors Diocletian and Galerius. The ten-year period from 303–313ad is known as the Great Persecution, when many Christians were martyred. Then there was a complete reversal, with the persecuted becoming the persecutors when Christianity became the state religion in 380ad.
Theodosius, Roman Emperor from 379–395ad, issued an edict called Cunctos Populos, also known as the “Edict of Thessalonica.” This edict made Christianity the official state religion of the Roman Empire. Those who resisted met a show of force. Pagan practices and places of worship were prohibited, and Christians who did not follow the Nicene orthodoxy, such as those who practiced Arianism, were severely suppressed.
For most of the second millennia ad, the Roman Catholic Church practiced inquisitions, handing over to secular authorities those who practiced other religions or who were regarded as heretics to the Catholic version of Christianity.
In the 1500s, King Henry the VIII separated the Church of England from the Roman Catholic Church, and made himself the supreme head of the Church of England. He wielded absolute power, not only suppressing religious dissent but also executing those who resisted. The Act of Succession required all adults to acknowledge that the king’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon, his first wife, was illegitimate, and his marriage to Anne Boleyn, his second wife, was legitimate. Imprisonment was the penalty for refusal to do so. Other of the king’s actions controlled or restrained religion according to his own ideas and transferred ownership of many churches’ holdings to the king.
Into the late twentieth century, Shinto was Japan’s national religion, with Hirohito as the Emperor who was to be worshipped. Other nations today have Islam as the state religion, which is increasingly intolerant of other religions.
In Western nations today, younger generations have grown up during a period of secularism, and may think a state religion in this modern era is not possible. To think this could not happen ignores thousands of years of history, as well as Bible prophecies concerning the end time. Such thinking is naïve.
Bible prophecy warns of coming religious persecution by a powerful state and church. Jesus said in His Olivet prophecy: “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake” (Matthew 24:9). Just as there was widespread persecution in centuries past, Bible prophecies foretell the emergence of a strong empire influenced by a church, soon to emerge and dominate the world.
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